Fri 13 May 2005
Over at AdTech last week there was a lot of buzz about rss and blogging. Seems as though a growing number of savvy marketers and advertising agencies have gotten hip to the opportunity that user generated content offers their products, services and brands. I’ve always believed that word of mouth advocacy is the most effective way to generate brand awareness, trial and cultivate perception. Nothing like a recommendation from a fellow human being to inspire curiosity and trust. Unfortunately, marketers are still playing it too close to the vest, afraid to truly “empower” consumers – that’s a term that makes me cringe, everyone talks about “consumer empowerment” but I see little evidence of that happening in a truly open environment. The trick is how do you provoke a dialogue in a positive direction. Here’s an example: a couple weeks ago the Music group Nine Inch Nails released their latest single, “The Hand That Feeds,” as a multi-track Garageband file for remixing by their fans. Trent Reznor, band leader Trent Reznor wrote:
“For quite some time I’ve been interested in the idea of allowing you the ability to tinker around with my tracks – to create remixes, experiment, embellish or destroy what’s there. After spending some quality time sitting in hotel rooms on a press tour, it dawned on me that the technology now exists and is already in the hands of some of you. I got to work experimenting and came up with something I think you’ll enjoy. … Change the tempo. Add new loops. Chop up the vocals. Turn me into a woman. Replay the guitar. Anything you’d like. I gave this to my crew and band to test out and all work effectively stopped for a while – it’s fun to mess around with. I’ve now heard a country version of the track as well as an abstract Latin interpretation (thanks, Leo). There are some copyright issues involved, so read the notice that pops up. Giving this away is an experiment. I’m interested to see what comes of it, what issues are raised and what the results are. Have fun-Trent Reznor”
Wow, that is bold and smart too. Lets imagine apple or nike doing the same with their ad footage, music, logo – taking those digital brand assets and floating them to consumers who can in turn remix commercials, make their own or just play around with the brand in fun and interesting ways. Sure, some people may do unattractive things, but I’ll bet a majority of people will produce content that strengthens those brands. It’s hard to imagine because at the end of the day, consumer empowerment is a scarry proposition for brand conscious corporate America. But I think it shouldn’t be – I see this as an incredible opportunity to strengthen brand relationships with customers. It’s happening anyway – many of you saw the apple ipod commercial created by a southern california school teacher named George Masters – it’s slick, captures the ipod brand essence quite well and it’s from a fan who wants the whole world to know that he thinks the ipod is nothing short of excellent. My take away: it’s better to be proactive than reactive and I think this window of opportunity is narrow. If you’re apple, why not run a contest for the best user generated apple ad – the winning ad gets a $5 million media buy against it – image how many apple enthusiasts would participate and the impact on apple’s already fantastic brand image. Sure, while a handful of people might produce derogatory ads, the majority of participants will create imaginative content that reinforces their affinity with the brand. I believe the first brands to take a calculated risk will win big.